An Essay on Girl by Jamaica Kincaid

Prompt: Look closely at the indications of time in the story. What actions take place at certain times? Does any event or action happen only once? Is there a plot in Girl? If so, how would you summarize it?


At first glance the very short story Girl by Jamaica Kincaid does not seem to have indications of time. The story can be described as a series of instructions that are being given to the titular girl. The instructions are all guidance on how to conduct yourself and do certain tasks in life, from cooking pumpkin fritters to having a relationship with a man. The nature of the instructions and the voice of whoever is giving them makes the reader think of a mother passing down wisdom and warnings to a daughter.


The voice of the instructions is commanding. It doesn’t say please. Only twice in the story, the voice also questions the girl. “Is it true that you sing benna in Sunday School?” the voice asks the first time. It is the kind of question that a mother, or some other elder asks, when they demand to know if a young person has been up to something they shouldn’t be doing.


These instructions could have been given all in one sitting, but, especially if we assume that this is a mother or other elder woman talking to a daughter, it seems unlikely. Instead, these instructions sound like the kinds of things a mother tells a daughter on a daily basis as they go about the business of living. As the daughter grows, this wisdom is handed out a little bit at a time as the mother watched the daughter develop and encounter more experiences. So, this list of instructions is allowing us to see into the relationship between a mother and daughter, perhaps over years.


The very beginning of the story directs the girl to “wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry”. These are the kind of directions a mother would give to a young girl who is just learning to do laundry for the first time. The girl has probably passed early childhood, so older than seven, but not yet a teenager, so younger than fourteen.


The story ends with the second question from the mother figure: “You mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?” This is a question that is supposed to challenge the girl about what kind of woman she is going to be. Is she going to be a proper sort of woman, a woman who people see and don’t have to worry about her cleanliness and worthiness. This is the kind of question you ask a girl who is on the cusp of womanhood, so perhaps by the end of the story the girl is around eighteen.

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